My dear friend, Nikki, came to visit us for nearly three weeks during the holidays. In that time, I shared this new country we are exploring as home. An interesting thing happens when you become a “tour guide” of the place you live. The lens shifts and you share the perspective of appreciation.
We didn’t sweep the difficulties under the rug though. Nikki certainly witnessed our challenges and for that I am grateful. Having a friend understand first hand what is going on here means a lot. Her support and care and unending listening were the best gifts I could have received.
Sharing this mixed bag of life in Laos, I realized a few things:
*Luang Prabang is really very charming
*it’s a small town and everyone has a story
*it takes time for city people to slow down
*the local bus is actually more comfortable than the “falang” (foreigner) one
*the coffee and bread in LP are darn good
*there is nothing like the sound of a running river to fall asleep to
One of the highlights of my friend’s visit was our brief trip to Nong Khiaw, about 4 hours north of Luang Prabang. The rumors of it’s beauty are all true and the moment we stepped out of the van we were faced with magnificent hills that embrace the town.
We were sold on a guesthouse with a pair of hammocks that swung from a balcony overlooking the Ou River. This scene is one I could not tire gazing at; the river here takes on an emerald shade of green that truly mesmerizes. No five stars here, but without the lights and activity of high season LP, the sky glimmers with its own. Our following days included an awesome bike ride up and over hills that led to views we privately shared. The feeling of releasing the breaks downhill on a dirt path with nothing but nature surrounding me, was liberation at its best. On our way back, we stopped to search for an advertised cave. Walking through dried rice fields, we munched on apples bought as snacks. We lost our way and a group of boisterous boys pointed us in the right direction from a distance. As they walked, one shouted: “Apple!” I yelled back, hand extended: “Do you want it?” Suddenly, six barefooted kids bolted towards us, leaping over cow dung, until two winners reached out for our half-eaten fruit. Feeling for the others, I offered my box of crackers instructing them to share. They thanked us and turned toward their interrupted destination. Our day ended with a purchase of a bottle of Chilean wine and peanuts which we enjoyed on a sandy beach by the river. The sun hid behind the towering hills, and we felt incredibly grateful and alive.
Renting a boat the following day, we slowly made our way upriver to Muong Ngoi, a town you can only get to by water. Absent of cars and motorbikes, this place is a rugged but quaint haven. We immediately understood why it was the destination travelers eagerly pass Nong Kiaw to get to. It’s all about the simple things: cushions to curl up in while reading a book and sipping a dark Beer Lao, walking through amazing clouds of fluttering, white butterflies, interacting with a kind-faced man who makes jewelry and his wife, scarves. There are no tuk-tuks honking, no waiting for a table to open up, no one buried in the internet.
We could have been there for weeks and weeks.